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Is AI plastering over real-world business problems?

Plus, how Adidas's CEO revived the sports brand, the London Stock Exchange gets a listing snub and Brussels accuses Apple of breaking big tech monopoly rules

Microsoft Copilot ad extended

AI washing appears to be on the rise. A growing number of firms are claiming to have artificial intelligence at the core of their offering. They will overstate their capabilities and use vague jargon despite the fact that their algorithms aren’t capable of learning. There’s no doubt that AI is improving the workplace and changing many business’s offerings, but a new ad from Microsoft is raising alarm bells for some experts, who warn of a growing trend.

The ad depicts a person asking a very simple question: can I be in three meetings at once? The answer seems to be that if you send AI, yes you can. But is this indicative of AI being used to solve a problem that shouldn’t be there in the first place? Yes, this is a useful feature for summarising meetings, but a problem is being plastered over here. Why aren’t meetings more efficient?

Microsoft Copilot ad - can I be in three meetings at once

Some of the stats around the effectiveness of meetings are eye-opening. The average employee attends 62 meetings a month, 31 hours of which are unproductive, according to a survey by Atlassian. Shopify found meetings so bad for productivity and morale that the firm cancelled any with more than two people. The meeting, it seems, is the bane of office life.

In an email to Tesla employees in 2018, Musk laid out his productivity recommendations. Reducing meetings is key, he suggests.

– Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get out of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.

– Get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.

– Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.

It would seem clear then that maybe AI can help. Send the AI to these basically pointless and unproductive meetings and you are free to get on with your work. It can replace you in the mundane task of sitting in a meeting you don’t need to be in, taking notes for you. This can help with another major issue in modern workplaces: burnout. 

Burnout is cited as one of the primary reasons that employees become “quiet quitters”, which refers to workers who do the minimum needed in their job, putting in no more time, effort or enthusiasm than necessary. It is estimated to cost the UK £257bn every year.

Speaking to The Times about the phenomenon, Tina Kiefer, a professor of organisational behaviour at Warwick Business School, says: “When we look at a lack of engagement more widely, there are mainly two overarching factors. One is a lack of meaningfulness at work. The second is harmful aspects of work such as burnout and toxic work environments; when work is so draining that even though I may want to still engage I can’t. Typically related to withdrawn behaviours and a lack of engagement are toxic leadership, leadership that focuses on micromanagement.”

But sending in AI simply papers over the problems, it doesn’t solve them. A bad workplace culture that results in excessive and unproductive meetings, micromanagement by bosses, and toxic leadership are not things that can be fixed with AI.

There are many problems the technology can solve and it is clearly being used to do so: the use of generative AI in the workplace nearly doubled in the first six months of this year, according to a survey from LinkedIn and Microsoft. But treating it as a silver bullet for all the problems in your business – particularly those relating to people – is asking for trouble.

Business Question

Who am I?

  • I was born in 1971 and grew up in Yorkshire
  • I left school at 16 to programme computer games
  • I became managing director of a mirror business in my 20s
  • Before the age of 30, I owned and/or managed a number of small businesses turning over £400,000 to £4m
  • I founded an energy company in 2015
  • The group had annual revenues of £13bn last financial year

The answer can be found at the bottom of the page.

Business in Brief

Everything you need to know

1. With fewer than two weeks to go until the general election, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has criticised the major parties for not detailing how they would fund their spending commitments. The Financial Times highlights a poll which found that the Tories have lost a third of their voters since January and a City AM poll has found that top economists say Labour will have to raise more taxes if it wins on 4 July. You can read more here.

2. Brussels has accused Apple of breaking big tech monopoly laws in a move that could lead to a multibillion-euro fine. If the European Commission finds against Apple, it could face a fine of up to 10 per cent of its worldwide revenue, which was $316bn (£171bn) in its last financial year. You can read more here.

3. London Tunnels has announced plans to list on the Euronext in Amsterdam in the latest blow to the London Stock Exchange. The firm, which has set its sights on redeveloping subterranean wartime tunnels underneath High Holborn, hopes to raise £30m on Euronext, which would value the company at £130m. You can read more here.

4. However, digital health company Reset Health is considering listing in the capital. It’s seeking to capitalise on the boom in weight-loss jabs and aiming for a £15m raise, a move which could value the business at as much as £60m. You can read more here.

5. Barcelona’s mayor has promised to drive Airbnb out of the city within five years as part of efforts to tackle rent increases of 70 per cent and a rising wave of public protest against mass tourism. The decision puts the Catalan city at the forefront of a backlash against the effect of online-based short-stay rentals on cities, with the most radical global measure yet. You can read more here.

Business Quotes

Inspiration from leaders

“If you can laugh together, you can work together.”
– Robert Orben

Business Thinker

Ideas on the future of business and leadership

1. 🔎 Should employers monitor more than mouse clicks of remote staff? 🔍

2. 👎 Lessons from a failed business can help others save theirs 👎

3. 👟 Adidas CEO Bjorn Gulden revived the iconic sports brand by relying on gut instinct, unlike his analytical predecessor 👟

4. 🛍️ Why Costco is so loved 🛍️

And finally…

Tom Brady was inducted into the New England Patriots Hall of Fame last week. Brady’s story is often pitched as a fairytale but it’s a story of grit, competitiveness and hard work. He was the 199th player picked in the 2000 NFL Draft, a move that many pundits criticised the Patriots for at the time. 

Brady retired from the NFL in 2022 after 22 seasons, winning six Super Bowls with the Patriots and one with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His seven titles are more than any one franchise has ever won. 

In his Hall of Fame induction speech, Brady said: “To be successful at anything, the truth is you don’t have to be special. You just have to be what most people aren’t: consistent, determined, and willing to work for it.”

You can watch the full speech here or a short snippet here.

The answer to today’s Business Question is Greg Jackson.

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